4 concrete tips for goal setting

When your autistic child was in elementary school, services probably focused on behavioral skills. As your child moves toward adulthood, the challenges that plagued them as a child may continue as an adult. At some point, intervention must shift to focusing on goal setting to prepare your child for adulthood. Here is how you can start the process.

Veda Collmer
4 concrete tips for goal setting

Create a plan for adulthood

Your child will spend most of their life as an adult.  Adulthood is complex with many choices, transitions, and hurdles.  Planning is important for tackling adulthood, especially as an autistic person.  Once your child reaches middle school, IEP goals should start focusing on the skills needed for adulthood.  Those skills include:

  • Problem-solving
  • Good hygiene skills
  • Safety skills (e.g., who to trust, internet safety, preventative measures for avoiding unsafe situations in the community, recognizing an emergency)
  • Organizational skills
  • Time management
  • Reliable work skills
  • Leisure skills for stress management  

In addition to the special education committee, you can create goals for your child to address these skills and prepare them for adulthood.  If your child does not have an IEP, it is especially important to develop goals to address the transition to adulthood; you will not have the support of the school in the planning process.  Get your child involved to make sure they are thinking and planning for their future.

Step #1: Develop a vision for the future

Your first goal or goals is to help your child to develop a 360-degree vision for their future. Make it a SMART Goal: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.  For an easy read about SMART Goal writing, check out this Autism Alliance of Michigan blog.  Or have your child watch this video on writing SMART Goals.  

The goal itself may take some time to write, so be patient with the process. Block off small chunks of time to sit with your child and develop a 360-degree vision for the future.  Include all aspects of their life, not just work or education.  


  • What do they want to do after high school graduation? Do they want to attend college or get a job?  
  • What kind of job would interest them?  Use My Next Move’s Interest Survey to help generate ideas.  
  • Where will they live- in their own apartment, in your home, in a supportive living situation?  
  • Do they know what activities they will need to do each day as part of their routine, such as housecleaning, taking a shower, laundry, and cooking?  
  • What kind of hobbies will they like? Do they want friendships?  Will they join groups?

Depending on your child’s age or developmental level, you may only touch on certain topics initially or you may need to provide support to facilitate ideas. One aspect of this exercise is to get your child thinking about the future.

Step #2: Write down the goal or goals?

Memorialize your conversations to make them actionable. If your child can write, make them the scribe.  If writing is difficult, you take on this role. If your child is non-verbal, use a picture system, their personal communication device, or internet images. Keep a record of goal discussions and planning in a notebook or Google doc so that you and your child can track progress.

Step #3: Make it fun

Planning for the future should be fun.  It is a time for your child to learn more about how they tick.  It is also a time to grow and develop confidence as the vision for their future becomes a little clearer.  Use these strategies to make goal planning fun and meaningful for your child:

  • Don’t work on goal planning when your child is tired or not in the right mood.  Don’t force it.
  • Include rewards for small and big wins.  For example, if your child had a goal to learn more about a career of interest, reward them if they visit a company or research the career.
  • Watch movies and documentaries about people with disabilities achieving their goals.  Examples are Miss You Can Do It,  Intelligent Lives, and As We See It.
  • Keep an open mind and be flexible.  The goal planning process is a process that will change over time as your child learns more about what they want.  Expect change, confusion, frustration, and learning to happen through the process. Don’t take anything too seriously.  
  • Make it about your child.  Let them generate ideas and don’t impose what you want on them.  Afterall, this is their future, the goals are their goals.

Step #4: Ask for help

Your child may not be open to your input and ideas.  You are the parent and they may be resistant to opening up to you.  Also, goal planning for your autistic child’s future may seem daunting or overwhelming for you.  There are not many resources out there for you to lean on (which explains why there are not many links to other resources in this blog).  Consider asking for the help of an occupational therapist.  Occupational therapists know how to generate ideas, provide the right support to facilitate learning, and have creative solutions for goal implementation. When you and your child are locked into an ego struggle, an OT can be the perfect cheerleader, mediator, and motivator all rolled up into one person.  If the occupational therapist working with your child at school cannot help with goal planning, consider hiring an occupational therapist to assist with this process.  

VedaOT occupational therapists are experts at helping autistic children plan for their future.  Contact us at info@vedaot.com if you want more information.


I am a lawyer, so I have to insert a disclaimer.  This blog is for information purposes only.  We are not providing any legal, medical, or educational advice.   We are not creating a provider-client relationship with this blog.  If you do want to hold us accountable, hire us.  We do great work and can help your child build confidence for the future.  

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